Dr. William R. Brinkley, dean emeritus of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and distinguished service professor in the department of molecular and cellular biology at Baylor College of Medicine, has been named as one of the recipients of the E.B. Wilson Medal, the highest scientific honor of the American Society for Cell Biology.
Named for Edmund Beecher Wilson, America’s first modern cell biologist, the Wilson Medal will be presented to the winners in December at the ASCB’s 54th Annual Meeting in Philadelphia. The other two recipients are John Heuser of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Peter Satir of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx.
“We selected these three people because of their lifetime contributions to the field of cell biology, particularly to the study of the cytoskeleton,” says Joseph Gall, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, who chaired the Wilson Medal selection committee for ASCB. “The E.B. Wilson is the highest award given by the ASCB, and it means a great deal to ASCB members, who recognize that our science is both collaborative and shaped by exceptional individuals. These three are exceptional.”
“The E.B. Wilson Medal is a wonderful honor for an outstanding and internationally acclaimed cell biologist such as Bill Brinkley. It is the highest honor of the Society for Cell Biology, and he is truly deserving of it, one of many accolades in his very productive career,” said Dr. Bert O’Malley, chair of the department of molecular and cellular biology at Baylor.
Brinkley has been a member of the American Society for Cell Biology since 1963 and served as president of the Society in 1980. Brinkley’s research has largely focused on how human cells divide as well as defining the mitotic apparatus, an apparatus that separates the genome during mitosis. He is best known for his discovery of the kinetochore, the crescent-shaped, three-layered laminated plate that attaches the center of a duplicated chromosome to microtubule spindle fibers that pull it apart from its “sister” duplicated chromosomes during cell division. This is the culmination of the whole process of DNA replication and thus the basis of growth. Brinkley’s work was also critical in the description of the MTOC, the microtubule organizing center, another major piece of cell machinery, and in later work linking MTOC defects to cancer. Brinkley was also the first to successfully employ an immunofluorescent antibody to study tubulin, the family of proteins that combine to generate microtubules.
Brinkley’s research ended up personally impacting his life when his wife was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer about ten years ago. His research had confirmed that tubulin and microtubules in cancer cells were the primary targets for a novel drug, Taxol, which was part of her successful chemotherapy.
“I’ve won many honors, but this one is very special,” said Brinkley. “To receive this award at this stage of my career is a nice thing. I’m very humbled.”
Brinkley served as the dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Baylor for 20 years, during which the school increased the number of programs offered to 18 from less than five.
He is a member of the Institute of Medicine, a former president of the American Society for Cell Biology, the International Federation for Cell biology and the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, and the recipient of many awards, among them the National Medal for Science Advocacy from the Australian Society for Medical Research. A well-known scientist statesman, he has testified before the U.S. Congress and the Texas Legislature in favor of funding for science as well as in defense of scientific freedom and integrity.
Sam Houston State University, where Brinkley received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, has established the William (Bill) R. Brinkley Endowed Scholarship in his honor. The scholarship supports a full-time undergraduate student in the biological sciences at the University.
The William R. Brinkley BRASS Chair at Baylor supports the dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.